Breastfeeding comes with many health benefits for both you and your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes human milk as the preferred nutrition source for infants. For women who choose to breastfeed, doing so may prove more difficult when it is time to go back to work. Returning to work outside the home during the first year after birth can create barriers to breastfeeding and may cause women to stop nursing when they return to work.

Why Breastfeed After Returning to Work?

Studies have found evidence that breastfeeding decreases your child's risk of ear infections, pulmonary infections, diarrhea, obesity, sudden infant death syndrome, and many other conditions. For these reasons, the AAP now recommends breastfeeding for the first year of a child's life.

Breastfeeding also benefits mom by reducing the risk of postpartum depression, speeding the return to pre-pregnancy weight, and possibly reducing the risk of several serious diseases including ovarian and breast cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

Breastfeeding also provides health benefits to infant. Since breastfed infants tend to be sick less often, working mothers who breastfeed avoid lost days at work.

By breastfeeding, you will also strengthen the mother-infant bond, which will help boost your confidence. A woman's confidence in herself as a mother may be vulnerable when she becomes separated for her infant for long periods of time. Continuing to breastfeed serves as a constant reminder of the mother-infant bond despite the pressures a new mother may encounter during the workday.

Finally, mothers may find breastfeeding convenient, since they avoid the preparation and expense that formula feeding requires.

The Challenges

There are several challenges you may encounter when you return to work as a breastfeeding mom. Working mothers who breastfeed usually have concerns about producing enough milk for their babies. Long work hours and stress can decrease their milk supply. In addition, working moms who breastfeed may be more fatigued and may need to plan their time more carefully than bottle-feeding moms.

Other challenges faced by breastfeeding moms at work include finding time and space to pump breast milk during a workday and lack of support at the workplace. How can you overcome these potential barriers and make a smooth transition to becoming a breastfeeding mom who works outside the home?

Making It Work

Planning is one of the most important steps for overcoming the challenges of continuing to breastfeed after returning to work. Here are some practical tips to ensure a smooth transition back to the workplace:

  • Do a trial run before you actually return to work—Put your child in daycare while you are still at home to get a feel for the schedule and how things might go after you start work.
  • Talk to your employer—Work with your employer to create a workplace that is friendly toward breastfeeding. Try to find an advocate at your place of employment who is supportive of breastfeeding and can help you if any problems arise.
  • Maintain privacy—Ensure that you have a private space to pump, with an electrical outlet, a place to store milk, and facilities to rinse the pump parts. In many cases, your employer is required by law to provide time and a place for you to pump.
  • Buy a good pump—You need an effective pump. For women separated from their babies for a full work-day, this often means a hospital-grade pump that will provide enough pressure and speed to reproduce the baby's sucking and stimulate continued milk supply over time.
  • Dress appropriately—Wear clothing that will hide any leakage and allow for easy pumping at work—avoid dresses, and clingy or transparent blouses. Use a hair clip to hold your blouse out of the way.
  • Pencil it in—Schedule pumping sessions in your date book as you would a meeting.
  • Fuel your body—Drink water often while at work. Remember to eat well.
  • Take it easy—The first two weeks after returning to work are often the most tiring. Cut back on other activities during that time. Get as much help with household chores as possible.
  • Talk to friends—Find other moms who have successfully breastfed while working and enlist their support.
  • Ask the expert—Keep the telephone number of a lactation consultant handy in case problems arise.
  • Nurse whenever you can—Nurse frequently when you are with your baby to maintain your milk supply.
  • Remember that medication can affect your breast milk and your baby—Talk to your healthcare provider before taking prescription and over-the-counter medication, as well as herbs and supplements.

Don't let anyone tell you that breastfeeding and working outside the home are mutually exclusive. With careful planning and forethought, you can do a good job at work and be a nursing mom.